Office Party Behavior, Appropriate and Inappropriate Behavior at Office Parties

Office Party Behavior Appropriate and Inappropriate Behavior at Office Parties.
Here is a piece I did for My contribution is highlighted in yellow.

Slips, Slurs & Slappin' the Boss: The Most Shameful Office Holiday Party Stories Ever
December 16, 2015

Illustration by Sarah Mazzetti for Yahoo Style
Everyone remembers the over-the-top office Christmas party scene from Mad Men, right? The out-of-control boozing and smoking, the indiscriminate makeout sessions in every corner, the festive conga line through the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with Joan at the front in a fire-engine-red dress…and the trashed office at the end of the night!
Then again, that was 1964, when all manner of bad behavior was tolerated in the workplace, especially at a boozy office party. More than fifty years later, workplace socializing has become a potential minefield of missteps that can lead to anything from coworker side-eye and trips up to HR for a write-up, all the way to finding yourself among the next round of “unfortunate but necessary” layoffs— or, at worst, litigation. What might have been a mere case of “boys will be boys” in Don Draper’s era could today be construed as a violation of workplace sexual harassment or anti-discrimination policy.
And yet despite all that, at this most merry time of year, colleagues nationwide are expected to come together after a long day at work, in a venue replete with a DJ or karaoke machine and unlimited free liquor, for the undying ritual known as the holiday office party. Sure, there are those of us out there who actually look forward to this event–who somehow know how to finesse the slippery overlap between work and play, between our professional and our real selves. But for the vast majority of us, “office party” is a bit like saying “dentist picnic” or “jury-duty vacation.” They’re two words that just don’t go together.
That’s because we don’t associate the constraints we put on ourselves at work with the cocktail-lubricated unwinding among true friends we expect of a real party. “We have these unspoken rules and norms of workplace behavior, but the office party layers on a different set of expectations that really blurs boundaries,” says Nancy Rothbard, PhD, a professor at the Wharton School of Business who has researched the social dynamics of office parties. “And for a variety of reasons, some of us have less trouble navigating those boundaries than others.”
When those boundaries are navigated less than expertly, they can lead to moments that are cringe-ily funny at best, truly humiliating (and career-damaging) at worst. Says Emmy, who works in New York at a big website, “Once at this holiday party, some random dude who was way drunker than everyone at the party just came up to me and said he’d always thought I was cute, and did I want to make out? I just laughed and told him I had to get back to my boyfriend, who was five feet away talking to another coworker of mine.”
Then, she says, there was the work party at Webster Hall, the big downtown Manhattan club. “By the end of the night, the floor was so sticky from spilled drinks that people were falling down on each other like dominoes, with at least one serious injury.”
It’s not the first time that, like on Mad Men, an office party has become something of a bacchanal. And that can be great, a chance for people who work hard together day-in, day-out to blow off steam together and get crazy. Remembers Derek, a New Yorker, of the party for the law firm where he was a legal secretary: “It was insanely ritzy with an open bar all night. There was this bearish, super-sweet guy who worked in the mail room who obviously had way too much to drink. At one point, he was quite literally swinging from one of the ornate chandeliers— or at very least grasping feverishly for it.”
But then, says Derek, things got ugly. “First he had an altercation on the way out with the coat-check. Then he began conversing with the head of HR, a biker and overall cool lady. He abruptly called her something unseemly and slapped her across the face, apropos of nothing. Thankfully he was considered such a sweet man in general that he was not fired for his slip into insanity. The head of HR decided that his humiliation was punishment enough. But he was banned from ever going to another corporate party.”
Stories of such gasp-inducing behavior abound. One gay friend of mine remembers that the last time he had sex with a woman was at an office holiday party. He also remembers the party at the boss’ house where someone got so drunk they passed out in the boss’ tub with their pants down— only to be discovered by the boss’ 11-year-old daughter. Another friend, Kellee, a film editor in Chicago, remembers making out at a holiday party with the only straight man in the office, then getting so drunk that one of her managers had to put her up for the night–at which point Kellee vomited all over the jammies her manager had lent her.
Felipe, a Brooklyn finance editor, remembers a holiday party where “basically, soft-lit eighties porn was re-enacted in a couple of bathroom stalls.” And Ben, a dancer, remembers “catering a huge New York law firm’s party at Madame Toussaud’s Wax Museum where one of the secretaries got so drunk she threw up profusely in the middle of the floor and had to be carried out in a wheelchair.”
Krista, a publicist, recalls “the one time we had eggnog and a client of ours who said she’d never had eggnog before got sloshed in, like, 20 minutes. I thought it was hilarious, because how can you be thirty years old and never have had eggnog?” (Perhaps you grew up in one of those early vegan homes?)
According to Rothbard, if you have a history of not being able to handle (or put a limit on) your liquor, “a club soda would be advisable.” You can always use some convenient excuse for your teetotaling, like saying you’re on antibiotics or that you have to go later to your second job as a bus driver or heavy machinery operator.
And if alcohol-related humiliations weren’t bad enough, then there are the fashion faux pas. “Someone once told me that the office Christmas party was extremely dressy,” says Kate, an educational content executive in Brooklyn. “Having no experience at the time with a grown-up office party’s idea of dressing, I wore a mid-shin-length, puff-sleeved velvet Laura Ashley dress. Most people there were in regular early-nineties office wear and a couple wore sequined tops, but only I was wearing a Lady Di New Year’s dress.”
According to body-language expert Patti Wood, Kate was probably standing in a way that reflected her embarrassment. Wood says she loves to scan the room at corporate social events for tell-tale physical signs of who’s who. “Guys who know each other and feel they are of equal status will stand side-by-side as they talk to each other. Men who feel they need to compete to see who is alpha will stand face-to-face.”
And, she says, watch who hangs out by the food. “The one eating all the shrimp. That can be nervousness and anxiety. Also, when we feel vulnerable, we tend to hold plates and beverages close to the heart.” Influencer types, she says, “stand with their legs spread and toes pointed outward, hands on hips or gesturing broadly above the waist, speaking louder than necessary— like Donald Trump!”
The key to surviving the office party, says Rothbard, is knowing how to strike a balance between informality and appropriateness. “Warm but professional is your safest bet,” she says, “but if you can only do one, stick with professionalism. It’s not just any party. You’re still being evaluated in a professional context.”
One good tip? “Ask people about themselves,” she says. “People love to talk about themselves and hopefully you’ll not disclose too much about yourself.”
But Ennio, an Italy-born graphic designer, learned the hard way at an office party not to probe too deep. “A woman told me she was dating a man from Scotland and that she thought European men were better. I asked, ‘Better how? Better lovers?’ And she said, Yeah! And I said, you mean better in bed? And she said, Hell, yeah! So I told her that I’d dated both European and American men and couldn’t note a clear difference–except maybe foreskin.”
At which point, recounts Ennio, “she turned around and left the conversation. And the next day at work, people told me she was coming up to them saying, 'You know what that weird Italian guy told me yesterday?’”
But other people’s peccadillos make Ennio’s look mild. One friend told me about a colleague who got so drunk she plopped down on the boss’ lap. Another friend, recounting a holiday party at a fancy magazine, told me about a colleague who literally climbed over her boss on a banquette so she could slobber all over a famous writer who’d dropped in, who happened to be her hero.
“The boss roared, 'Who the hell are you? You’re fired!’” remembers my friend. “But the next day the second-in-command said of this person, who was really sweet and good at her job, and whom we’d already nicknamed Little Miss Moonshine, that you just can’t blame anyone for what happens at an office holiday party. So she kept her job and all ended well.”

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Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Check out Patti's website for her new book "SNAP, Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language and Charisma" at Also check out Patti's YouTube channel at